February 07, 2002 11:00 pm

By Dick Mason

Observer Staff Writer

Moved by an outpouring of support, Eastern Oregon University President Phil Creighton has decided to remain at EOU.

Creighton, a finalist for the presidency at Kutztown University in Kutztown, Pa., announced Thursday he is withdrawing his name from consideration.

Creighton was one of three finalists for the Kutztown position. He withdrew his name following a visit to Kutztown on Wednesday. This was Creightons second visit to the university in two weeks.

Creighton and his wife, Leigh, made their decision at about noon on Thursday.

Leigh and I have been deeply touched by the many expressions of support we received from the campus, the La Grande community and throughout the state, Creighton said. Those kind of expressions have weighed heavily in our making a decision to stay in Oregon.

Another factor was the support Creighton received from Joe Cox, chancellor of the Oregon University System. Cox told Creighton that he is preparing a review of the compensation and salary packages received by university system presidents. The report, which will likely recommend an increase in salaries and compensation, will be submitted to the State Board of Higher Education in March.

Cox said on Thursday he is delighted that Creighton is staying.

I couldnt be happier. I have hired this guy twice and I know that he is a winner. I hope that he stays in Oregon a long time, Cox said.

Cox was chancellor when Creighton was selected as Easterns president in 1998. Cox was at Towson State University in Maryland in 1973 when he hired Creighton as a professor.

Creighton earlier was a candidate for the presidencies of the University of Minnesota at Mankato and Humboldt State University in Northern California.

Creighton was among the top five finalists for the Mankato position. He withdrew after a visit in late January.

A lot depends on chemistry, and I didnt feel comfortable there (at Mankato), Creighton said.

Creighton was a top-10 finalist for the Humboldt State University position before he withdrew in January. Creighton did not visit that university.

In addition to the support he received, Creighton listed a number of other reasons for deciding to stay at EOU. One is that the states universities will face stiff challenges in the next several years because of a sagging economy. Creighton believes it is critical that Eastern have stable leadership during that time.

I didnt want the university harmed because of a lack of continuity in leadership, the president said. Creighton also said he wants to help finish the key projects he has started, including boosting enrollment, and constructing a science center and a library.

Creighton did not apply for any of the three president positions he was considering. He was nominated and he allowed his name to remain under consideration.

If nominated in the future for other presidential positions at universities, Creighton said he will ask that his name be pulled.

It is very unsettling to the campus. ... I want to reduce anxiety and help keep Eastern moving ahead, Creighton said.

Creighton came to Eastern 3 1/2 years ago from Marylands Salisbury State University, where he was provost and vice president for academic affairs.